Looking at Life Phases

I just might have to reuse this title in a couple of months. Today however it is just for this very narrow and specific topic – coccoliths. I have been making ceramic interpretations of coccoliths for nearly 10 years. I admit it has been an obsession. There are many different coccoliths in the waters around the globe, currently in excess of 24,000 images have been recorded in the biodiversity database. Imagine my surprise and delight to discover that my beloved coccoliths are shapeshifters! To clarify, cocoliths start out with one form and shift to another. Many have ended up with 2 names – one for the motile form and the other for the non-motile form! Who knew?!?! Anyway here is a coccolith that I did previously in another form with another name, Coronaspheara mediterranea. Now it is Zygosphaera hellenica in this form. This has opened up more possibilities. I’m not sure if this means there are fewer different coccoliths or if has potentially doubled the opportunities for more coccoliths. It boggles the mind!

This is Zygosphaera hellenica from the Western Mediterranean in the Alboran Sea. I made it with a clay body made of half porcelain and half white stoneware (I was trying to use up the last of the porcelain and also to reclaim some old white stoneware). It is glazed with Oribe on the discs and Blue between. It was high fired in a gas kiln. I am very surprised that the blue came out a dark green but the Oribe did run just a bit…


21 thoughts on “Looking at Life Phases

    1. I did! I made 2 turkeys to feed the multitude and there was nothing but the bones left of one – the other is coming in handy as leftovers. I see a turkey pot pie in the future and some turkey tikka masala!

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  1. Shapeshifters? Neat to think we are not the only living things that re-invent ourselves. Will have to Google “coccoliths” and find out more. Your work at reproducing them in ceramic intrigues me. 🙂


    1. There are so many different types – Have fun looking at them! (many of the images have been “colorized” according to the imagination of the artist/photographer. Coccoliths are made of calcium carbonate and are white…

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      1. A truly amazing variety of tiny, intricate orbs! Hard to believe they are the building blocks of a SINGLE-CELLED organism. Do you suppose they follow the Fibonacci sequence? How did you learn about these, Muri? Do you spend a lot of time looking through a high-powered microscope? Are you a scientist or a marine biologist? If they are always white, how do you decide what color they should be when you reproduce them as art? Obviously, hot cocoa-liths would be deep brown and have marshmallows on top, but what about the other ones? 🙂


        1. OK you’ve discovered my secret. I’m in research and yes I do look through a microscope often. I’m also a Veterinary Technician (Veterinary Nurse) as well as several other certifications… I learned about the coccoliths from researching pollen. I was looking at electronmicrographs of pollen and a couple images of coccolithophores showed up and one thing led to another. As for my decisions for glaze colors – a more complicated issue. The coccoliths are often grouped with algae and thus fall into green, blue, red or brown. I am also limited by the colors of glaze available for high fire ceramics which tend to the earth tones and blues and greens. Low fire glazes are what you can find of terra cotta pottery with bright oranges and yellows and reds with vibrant pink and purple in addition to the colors available in high fire glazes. The lower fire pieces are much less durable. I choose the colors based on whim and whimsy (with input from the scientific side as well). Sadly the hot cocoa-liths never end up with marshmallows on top as marshmallows are sugar which is carbon and when fired they turn black. Not at all appetizing… so I skip the marshmallows.

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          1. Aha! Nobody has that powerful of a microscope just laying around the house. Funny that earth tones can withstand higher firing than bright colors. I like earth tones better anyway. I should have realized that carbon/black thing about the marshmallows… my niece loves to roast them over bonfire or grill until they ignite, then blow them out and eat the charred, gooey remains. “Caramelized” she calls them. I was a people nurse for almost 25 years before I retired. Microscopes are my nemesis, all I can see is my own eyelashes flapping. My sister does cancer research, she says you acquire a knack for it after a while. Nice to know the microscopically untalented can see coccoliths and other tiny beautiful things on Google Images. 🙂


            1. I married into 5 generations of nurses: my MIL was a county health nurse (retired), a SIL who just switched from rehab to wound care, another who is a midwife/nurse practitioner, 3 nieces (1 in OB/GYN, 1 traveling, and 1 in radiology/oncology). When they all get together there is a rush if anyone gets hurt! Where does your sister work? I am involved in cancer research (prostate and breast) along with other fun things.

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            2. I worked Labor and Delivery 8 years, followed by 16+ years in an Internal Medicine office. My older sister became a nurse recently (in her 50’s) and works in a nursing home for war vets. Her daughter is a nurse, too, she works in ER. The cancer research (younger) sister works for Univ of Utah. They research other diseases too, like MS and dementia.


            3. I guess you are part of a multi-generational nursing family too! It is not a coincidence that caring families gravitate to professions that require empathy and sympathy as a requisite for success…

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  2. Ahhh…the strange shapeshifter! I have experienced it myself as I have aged but I kept same name! Interesting informative post.


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